Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Have Yourself a Maréchal Foch Christmas

After last night's successful opening of an older (for BC wines) Okanagan Merlot, I figured why not try for two '06 wins in a row. I was just as interested in seeing how this bottle will have aged because we don't run across - let alone drink - aged Maréchal Foch very often.

And, for the second night running, luck was on our side. 

1832.  2006 Quails' Gate Old Vines Foch (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Unless you're familiar with Canadian wines or those of the more northern US wine regions, you may not be familiar with the Maréchal Foch grape. Indeed, it's pretty much found only in niche wines up here in Canada. Very few vineyards grow the grape any more and even fewer wineries still make wine from it - let alone make a varietal wine. I can't say that I know anything about Ontario producers but there's only a handful of them here in BC - with Quails' Gate, Sperling, Alderlea and Summerhill being perhaps the best known.

Interestingly enough, I wrote a post on Quails' Gate Foch all the way back at #210 on The List when I added a bottle of the Quals' Gate 2002 Reserve Foch. As such, given my proclivity for falling behind on my posts, it might be just as easy to leave a link to that bottle and a bit of a story on the winery and grape.

I was a little surprised to see that the Maréchal Foch grape merited a full page in Jancis Robinson's tome Wine Grapes. That's quite a reference for a North American hybrid grape that sees such limited production. However, I think a blog post by Ontario wine writer, Tony Aspler, was the tidiest reference on the grape that my quick searches found. I'm not going to try and out-write a writer. So, I'll just take a slice of his post and set it out here: "They are the blue-collar grapes, the early-ripening, winter-hardy, heavy-bearing hybrids that lack the finesse, the breed and the delicate dispositions of Old Europe's noble vinifera varieties. (You know these as Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot et al.) Yet the contemporary Canadian wine industry owes Baco and Foch more than a debt of gratitude because they replaced the unlamented Concord and other labrusca varieties that made our wines undrinkable."

Apparently, it's not the easiest grape to grow for quality winemaking and most of the old Maréchal Foch vines have been pulled from Okanagan vineyards. Quails' Gate has found, however, that their wine has quite the cult following. They, therefore, have no plans to stop their production.

I find the grape to produce a big, tannic wine with smoky, dark fruit on the palate. Those notes were all still noticeable on the Quails' Gate but I think the aging helped to smooth out the edges on the wine. This has been a favourite of Boo's over the years. So, we're hoping to have some more Foch-full holidays to come.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Surprising Red Rooster

We encountered a couple of surprises with this bottle when we opened it. First off, I was taken aback that this vintage hadn't already been added to The List. In part due to Boo's and my long-standing sponsorship of a row in Red Rooster's Adopt-A-Row program, we usually have a good selection of the winery's bottles on hand - and, therefore, I've likely added as many, if not more, Red Rooster bottles to The List as I have from any other winery. And, the Reserve Merlot is usually one of my favourite wines produced by Red Rooster.

Secondly, since I figured this Merlot would already be on The List, I didn't take a picture of it the night we drank it. Luckily, I've been a little slow returning the empties back to the store and I was still able to grab a quick shot for the blog. No shot of a full wine glass, but I suppose that sometimes an empty bottle will just have to do.

1831.  2006 Red Rooster Reserve Merlot (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Since I've already written a lot about Red Rooster and the folks behind it ("Hi Karen, Blair and gang), I won't carry on here. I'll just add a link to the post I wrote about the winery prior to the 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference - held just down the road from Red Rooster as chance would have it.

The good news about this bottle is that, despite being from the 2006 vintage, it had plenty of life left and was still very tasty. The nose remained big and fruit-filled and there was still plenty of balance between body, tannin and acidity. I wasn't so sure about the longevity of the '06 but it was definitely a pleasant surprise.

Unfortunately, there was some bad news as well. This was our last bottle of the 2006 and I don't think that's something that even Santa will be able to overcome.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Wines to Summon Your BC Ferry Godmother

Poor Boo. Here it is, the holiday season and he has to work nights tonight. Luckily, Elzee was free to come out and play. Good thing cuz there's no sense me spending it home alone - or even out alone - as tonight was destined to be a good evening. Dinner, party and a play. Poor Boo.

In an attempt to make him feel a teensy bit better about his "no fun night," he woke up from his afternoon sleep to a nice dinner and an equally nice sip of wine.

1829.  2009 Tawse - Robin's Block Chardonnay (VQA Twenty Mile Bench - Ontario)

The good news is that, if he was only to have one small glass of wine, it was going to be one fine glass. I'd been introduced to Tawse at the Vancouver International Wine Festival a couple of years back and was lucky enough to get my hands on this bottle during the Festival. Tawse winemaker, Paul Pender, was one of the interesting principals forming the line-up for the speed dating/drinking seminar at the Festival. I think he had a whopping eight minutes to walk us through the Robin's Block Chardy and tell all about the winery's being a leader in bringing organic and biodynamic farming practices and single-vineyard designated wines to Ontario. It was certainly eight minutes of tweaking my fancy.

Tawse was named Winery of the Year for three years running (2010, 2011 and 2012) at the Canadian Wine Awards. Rumour has it (at least on one website) that Proprietor, Moray Tawse, is "smitten with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir" and with how he can bring a bit of Burgundy to Ontario and the Twenty Mile Bench.

I'm not a huge fan of big oak and Chardonnay and, even though this wine saw its time in French barriques, that time only enhanced the texture of the wine. The oak was subtle enough that the tree fruit still shone through along with some wet stone and acidity.

If only there were more Tawse wines around. For me, mo Tawse, mo better.

Once Elzee and I had seen Boo off to work, we wandered over to Arty400 and BabyMama's place. Our neighbours had invited us to a little Hanukkah gathering. Arty400 is a master - if he says so himself - of the latke and he was frying up batch after batch. It was a major shame that Elzee and I had just finished our meal and didn't have much time before we had to mosey on because there was one tasty - and neverending - spread of dishes. Just as if your Jewish mom had to feed you incessantly because she's worried you're too skinny. We couldn't even nibble.

Luckily, we were able to stay long enough to watch the lighting of the Hanukkah candles. I know very little about Jewish holidays or traditions but it was nice to be asked to participate in an intimate family occasion. I have a feeling we might have been the only gentiles in the room because everyone broke into song as Arty400 lit the first candle. Seeing a handful of children from all the different families sing along with their parents was something you wouldn't see in our household at Christmas.

2014 Parallel 49 Barley Wine

As much as I'd like to add this bottle to The List, it's not wine - despite the name. The brewery calls it "the granddaddy of English ales" and it's aged in whiskey barrels to add a woody vanilla note. Arty400 says they just call it a wine because it clocks in with an alcohol content of 11.8%. Parallel 49 claims this bottling is easily ready for ageing as it is for immediate swilling.

If Elzee and I hadn't had to rush off to the theatre, I'd have loved to explore the Barley Wine some more. I'll have to stop in at the brewery after work one day and see if they have any left. I think it's a seasonal brew.

As it was, we had just enough lubrication to raise our level of laughter at Cinderella - An East Van Panto. This is the second year that the new York Theatre has offered up a seasonal panto. Last year's Jack and The Beanstalk was a hit and Cinderella could well be even bigger.

Photo Credit - Emily Cooper
Now, I have hard enough of a time trying to keep up with writing about wine; so, I'm not even going to try and pretend to put my two cents worth into Cinderella other than to say there were some big guffaws, some seriously ugly stepsisters and happening tune-age. It would take a panto (or a wicked drag show - or a combination of the two) to serve up a chorus singing Cinder-ella-ella-ella-ella to Rhiannon. And where else but Vancouver could your evening be saved by your very own BC Ferry Godmother?

I'm already looking forward to next year's show.

Following the show, there was time to revisit Hanukkah since Arty400 and BabyMama were still pouring and entertaining.

1830.  2012 Cave Saint Desirat Syrah (VdP Ardèche - France)

I was a little surprised to hear that this wine is a favourite of BabyMama's. Generally, it's Arty that shows me something I haven't run across before. Interesting that this will be the first wine that I'll now associate with BabyMama. It's definitely got an Old World-liness to it. Being a Vin-de-Pays, I wouldn't expect a whole lot of lineage behind the wine but, apparently, this is more an example of the vagaries of French appellation law. The vineyards that provide these grapes fall just outside of the boundaries for highly-renowned Rhône regions: St. Joseph and Crozes Hermitage. 100% Syrah or not, if you're outside, you're outside. Too bad. So sad. No AOC rating for this wine.

It probably wasn't an end-of-evening nightcap sort of wine though. I think I might have appreciated it more while noshing away on the spread that was laid out earlier, but I'm definitely going to revisit a bottle because $13 "near-Rhône" wines are hardly a dime-a-dozen in our market. Besides, I think Boo might find this to his liking and he had to miss out due to that whole, nasty "work" thing.

All in all, I think the evening deserves a big old "Mazeltov" though.

A Comfortable Chewbacca & Seasonal Shelback

After that slight hiatus and a little stay-at-home time, it's back to seasonal gatherings. Time for a little get-together with some fellow BC Wine Appreciation Society folks. The number of guests was small but the array of bottles was worthy of any Christmas party.

I should have known better than to head over with the intention of behaving myself. I doubt one of Shelback and Chewbacca's soirées will ever be spoken of as having had a shortage of wine - and this evening was no different, as you can tell by the collection of bottles at the bottom of the post. Thing is I'm only adding two bottles to The List because, while I had small tastes of most the wines offered, I limited my second pours to these three - and one of them has already been downed and counted.

N.V. See Ya Later Ranch - SYL Brut (VQA Okanagan Valley)

I suppose it shouldn't be too surprising that it's the bubbly that I've previously been intimate with - on a couple of occasions. The SYL Brut is non-vintage; so, the rules of this game (such as I've declared them) is that a non-vintage wine can only be added once - even if the wines themselves almost certainly came from different years. Interestingly enough, one of those earlier bottles of SYL was savoured with much of tonight's crowd a couple of BCWAS Bus Tours ago. The bottle that actually made The List, however, was at the 2012 neighbourhood Dine Around (and I just wrote about this year's party a couple of posts ago).

I don't think one should never complain about a second (or third) pour of the same bubbly though - particularly during the holiday season.

1827.  2011 Ricossa - Antica Casa Barbaresco (DOCG Barbaresco - Piedmont - Italy)

It's somewhat ironic that the Ricossa Barbaresco can also be found already on The List but that was back at #902 and it the 2005 vintage. Thus, I get to add this new vintage. Maybe it was just the setting but this Barbaresco seemed a whole lot lighter in body and flavour than that earlier bottle did. We all commented on how surprising it was that the other wines were all proving to be much bigger than the Nebbiolo-based juice. We've all been trained to expect boisterous wine when sipping Barbaresco but this seemed more like a big Pinot or Gamay.

It couldn't have been that bad, however, I did go back for a second glass after all. I suppose there's as much good to be found in red fruit as there is in brooding, dark fruit - especially when paired with salami and charcuterie.

1828.  2008 Poplar Grove - The Legacy (VQA Okanagan Valley)

The Poplar Grove Legacy was three years older than the Barbaresco but it still tasted like the much bigger wine. Being a Cab-based blend, you might think that comes into play - but we are talking 55% Cab Franc, not Cab Sauv. There is some Cab Sav being served up but it's only 19%. The remaining quarter balance of the blend is Merlot. Reading the line-up in advance, you might have expected a lighter bodied wine. Then again, it is from Poplar Grove and they've never been noted for the lightness of their wines (thankfully).

2008 was a late-starting, but long-lasting, growing season in the Okanagan and the wine seems to have benefitted from the extra hang time. There was a nice balance of fruit, tannin and acid to the wine - although someone must have been anxious to open it because there was plenty of opportunity for further cellaring on this legacy.

I hate to admit it but I was the first to throw my ugly Christmas sweater (which was much admired by all assembled) and take leave of the festivities. Christmas might have been just around the corner but I knew that I had one helluva busy weekend ahead of me.

And on that happy note...


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A White Blend Fit a Bishop

Finally, a slow night at home. Not that I don't enjoy all the seasonal socializing. I just need a little time for recharging now and then. A simple night of lounging in front of the TV with a new bottle from an old friend to try is just what I needed.

I say a "new bottle" because we haven't had a bottle of this white blend but, if memory serves, I picked up this il Vescovo at the Vancouver International Wine Festival earlier this year. I don't think it can normally be found in our market. I say "old friend" because the wine hails from a favourite producer in the McLaren Vale region outside Adelaide: Chapel Hill. In checking back on the blog, I'm surprised I haven't already added more bottles from Chapel Hill to The List. I suppose that must mean that we have a good number in our cellar just waiting to be opened. However, rather than go into a lot of detail on the winery, maybe I'll just refer you to my post from when we stayed at the Chapel Hill guest house a couple of years back.

1826.  2011 Chapel Hill - il Vescovo White (McLaren Vale - Australia)

The name for the wine comes from the fact that the winery is built around that historical chapel. The winery has taken to marketing some of its wines with a nod to that past and "il Vescovo" is Italian for "the bishop." The wine, itself, isn't Italian in nature but it does harken to Mediterranean roots. Chapel Hill offers both a red and a white il Vescovo and the white is a blend of Savagnin, Verdelho and Roussanne - grapes that hail respectively from Jura (France), Portugal and the Rhône.

A rather novel blend at that. It's not one that you'd likely run across and it's made all the more interesting in that, up until a couple of years prior to this vintage, most Aussie growers thought their Savagnin was actually Albariño. It appears that, rather than rip out all the faux-Albariño and starting again, a number of wineries are now serving up Savagnin, Chapel Hill included.

Knowing that Savagnin is hardly a grape variety that I sip on a regular basis, I immediately checked my Wine Century Club tally but there it was at #121. I knew I'd run across it before - while in the Barossa Valley as luck would have it, just days before we visited Chapel Hill - but I wasn't sure that I'd added it to my tally as we were only trying it as part of tasting at the time.

Much like how I tend to view Spanish and Italian whites, however, Australia is not generally my first choice for white wines. I'm a long-time Aussiephile when it comes to red but, as a rule, I'll reach for a BC white before I'll open an Aussie white (Margaret River wines being a big exception but there aren't many of those wines in our market). This was intriguing though - not so much in a fruit on the palate kind of way but because it still showed some decent acidity while offering bigger weight than we'd normally see on a BC blend.

It certainly has me looking forward to a return to Chapel Hill and to seeing what whites show up at the 2015 Wine Festival because Australia is the featured region and that might bring out some other surprises like this one. Now, that's a bit of socializing that I'm going to need to rest up for.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Holiday Dine Around


There's been a bit of change in the neighbourhood over the last decade. Folks have come and folks have gone but, thankfully, there's one constant that (so far) has shown no signs of fading away. Indeed,  it would appear that the only thing threatening our hood's Holiday Dine Around is its success.

The catalyst of the event was the fact that six new households all started up around the same time as three adjacent duplexes were completed. Following the first year of meeting the new neighbours, we thought it might be nice to visit each household for half an hour or so for a bit of cheer and some nibbles. We're now into our second decade and the participants have expanded to include three of the houses immediately next door or across the lane. Without doubt, it's one of the most anticipated evenings on the McSpadden calendar.

With potentially nine stops on the tour, it makes for a lot of wining and dining. As such, we were actually pleased to give two "free passes" due to renovations that hadn't been finished in time. We'd have been happy to give a pass to Biker Boy and Steffi since they are juggling a four-month old bundle of joy but they said they were still game.

The possibility for adding seven or more bottles to The List was probably there but I needed to 1) pace myself and 2) enjoy some of the libations offered that hailed from different bottles. We do live in Yeast Van after all and, as an equal opportunity drinker, who am I to discriminate?

1822.  2011 Masi Campofiorin (Rosso del Veronese IGT - Italy)

I did gravitate towards the Masi Super Venetian that Arty400 and Baby Mama were pouring. I always like to try what Arty serves up since he gets a whack of tips from one of Canada's Masters of Wine, Barbara Philips, on a regular basis. Plus, they were serving up some stylin' pizza and it just seemed a natural fit. There was boar, there were figs, there was blue cheese and pear. I could have made an entire evening's meal here alone but this was only one of many delicious stops.

1823.  2011 Ravenswood - Old Vine Vintners Blend Zinfandel (California)

A Zin was a bold choice for the green curry that was served up by Widget but as a cocktail wine can you ever go wrong with a Zin? Especially if it's meant to an accessible crowd-pleaser like this Ravenswood is meant to be. Made from grapes that hail from appellations all over California and blended with Petite Sirah, Syrah and (my favourite) 3% mixed blacks, it's big and bold with plenty of fruit for standing around or for recovering from Widget's extreme massage "chair of death." I don't know why I do it, but I submit myself to multiple winces of pure pain every year at this time. A bold drink was exactly what I needed after an episode in that chair.

I didn't even have any wine at our place - although Boo and I did open a bottle of Red Rooster red and white since we received our annual box of wines under the winery's Adopt-A-Row program this week. I opted for a glass of Boo's hard core - and, okay, famous - eggnog. I knew how much rum and bourbon went into the nog; so, I knew better than to have anything more than that one glass. The creaminess sort of matched up to the butter chicken we were offering as well. The white wine would have been fine but we still had another two or three stops to fit in and I can always add those wines at a later time since they are readily handy.

1824.  2013 La Vieille Ferme Rosé (AOC Ventoux - Rhône - France)

We went from green curry to butter chicken to bouillabaisse at Nature Boy and Mr. Principled's home. What was funny was that Boo and I changed our mind to go with butter chicken at the last moment due to time constraints but Widget had thought about butter chicken before she decided on the green curry and seafood. We had to laugh when Nature Boy said that they'd been thinking about butter chicken and only changed their mind to go with the bouillabaisse in the last day or so. We came very close to a seasonal butter chickens bake off.

That could be a viable idea for a future neighbourhood gathering though.

The boys went with an oh-so-appropriate choice of a Rosé with the fish stew. I'm not sure if they were aware that fish stew and Rosé wine go hand-in-hand in France. I've seen and tried the other Vieille Ferme wines but I hadn't seen the Rosé before. Made from Cinsault, Grenache and Syrah - traditional red grapes in the region - I was happy to be transported off to the Mediterranean for a half an hour or so.

1825.  Quinta do Bom Retiro - Ramos Pinto RP20 Tawny (Portugal)

For a first time in eleven years, Shameless Hussy and Rock God took a pass on hosting. The dust and torn up floors - that they currently call home - just wouldn't have worked out as well this year. Feeling guilty, however, they paired up with Cupcake and Haggis and brought along a special treat - a 20-year old Tawny Port to go with Cupcake's desserts.

I haven't run across this Tawny previously and I'm a regular at the Port tables every year at the Vancouver International Wine Festival. I'm not sure how Shameless Hussy came across it but Ramos Pinto has been in existence as a Port house since 1880 and has been part of the Roederer Group since 1990. I'm going to have to keep an eye for it down the road as it provided a sweet and carmelly end to another successful Dine Around - as should only be expected from a fine, old Tawny.

And, the holidays continue...

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Office Holiday Party Time


I know that the holiday season is in full swing when I have to miss a big BC Wine Appreciation Society tasting because it's being held on the same night as my office holiday party. Only to have just enough time to recover and finish preparing for THE annual social event in our neighbourhood the next night - which would only lead into our curling league's Ugly Christmas Sweater party the next day.

Yes, it's one of those weekends and, as such, I was hoping to stay on a pretty even keel at our office dinner - even though it was R-Bone's last day with the firm and that was as good of an excuse as any to repeatedly raise our glasses to toast this and that.

Considering we'd returned to Ciao Bello for an Italian repast, it shouldn't be much of a surprise that I'm adding a couple of Italian wines to The List tonight. It's far more surprising - to me at least - that I'm only adding two bottles. The Boss likes throwing out a good selection of wines at the start of the evening - a couple of this and two or three of that - but I didn't start on the wine until we sat down to dinner. I'd joined Boo in a Gin & Dubonnet cocktail and that kept me going for quite awhile.

1820.  2012 Barone Ricasoli - Campo Ceni (Toscano IGT - Italy)

There were a couple of wines - both red and white - at our table when I joined R-Bone and gang but I jumped right into a red. I'm not sure how I got to share R-Bone's table with him on his final night but he said that Boo and I were a special request of his wife's. It was an offer that I couldn't refuse, particularly since there was no mistaking the fact that the table was well on its way to a fun evening.

I think it's safe to say that none of us was paying much attention to the wine being poured but this entry level Super-Tuscan seemed to be the pour of choice. Easy drinking - and fruit forward - for an Italian wine, I just noted that I'd had the previous vintage at last year's C&C holiday do. The bottle proved more popular tonight than it did last year though.

1821.  2012 Fontanafredda Briccotondo - Barbera (Piemonte DOC - Italy)

The Barbera was a bit simpler in profile but seemed to go down easily enough. Considering how much Briccotondo was being quaffed back by the gang, I'm surprised that I don't have a picture of the bottle - except for one of our table with an unfocused bottle calling out to folks. What can I say? I must have been enjoying the chat and banter that happens outside of the office setting because it would have to take something major to get my mind off the blog. I should know those priorities by now.

Indeed, if I'd really been thinking, I could have taken a picture and included a Guest Alcohol to this entry as well. The Boss sent along a round of Limoncello to cap off the evening but that addition to the blog just wasn't to be. That sip was enough to cap off my evening as it was. Despite my calling it a night, I understand a healthy number of couples simply moved the party on to a neighbouring hotel and kept the holiday spirits flowing until well into the morning. There was talk of Boo and I taking a few interested (though straight-laced) folk to a leather bar not far away but my guess is that there hadn't been enough wine to fully fuel that folly.

Thankfully.

There are definite benefits to be had by bidding one's "adieus" and getting out while the going is good - particularly when you want to live to write about it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Some Forbidden Apricots

The definition of "mistelle" is grape (or other fruit) juice that has been fortified by the addition of alcohol prior to fermentation of the juice. The process preserves the intensity of the fruit and that was certainly the case with Forbidden Fruit's Apricot Mistelle.

1819.  N.V. Forbidden Fruit - Caught - Apricot Mistelle (Similkameen Valley)

I opened the Mistelle as I figured it would pair nicely with a cheese plate we were going to dive into after we'd made a visit to the Mircea Cantor show at the Rennie Collection. Good thing I know my way around wine pairing just a tad better than I know my way around contemporary art.

If you like the flavour of apricots, this is about as good as it gets. The label says that three varieties of tree ripened, organically grown apricots were crushed to make the nectar that resulted in the intensely sweet (with a hint of spice) wine.

I could sip away on the Mistelle by itself and be fully sated but I remembered the folks at Elephant Island - one of BC's other acclaimed fruit wineries - advised that one of the most popular uses for their apricot dessert wine was to use it in a vodka martini. I can highly recommend that using this Mistelle in that manner results in one fine - if not a favourite - sip as well. I'd be a very happy Bob if ever given the chance to enjoy the Rennie garden rooftop - or a future gallery show - with such an apricot martini in hand. Whichever route you go, we can just look at this as a flexible, as well as tasty, sip.

I know folks that can sit down and finish off a big bowl of cherries in a single sitting. If all apricots tasted like this, I'd be sitting down with bowls of them as well.


Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Vegan Affair


Other than sometimes having to contend with the odd morning after, the biggest problem our Dinner Club has is trying to schedule an evening when all four couples can attend. Things aren't made any easier now that Matinder and Jeaux spend five months of the year in semi-retirement down in Antigua, particularly since I don't think we can manage to get everyone down there on a regular basis for a dinner club like we did this year. With last night's Holiday Cookie Bash now behind them, our Caribbean couple were charted to head off to the sun in another week.

Although Tyrant had just returned from a month's visit to New Zealand, he and Panda Guy thought we might be able to fit in a dinner before Jeaux and Mat's departure. Luckily for us, Tyrant had access to his old Vancouver condo (and its view of the carol ships in Coal Harbour); so, he brought along his tools of the trade and made his way into town from Salt Spring Island.

The only clue we had as to the dinner's "theme" was that we were all asked to bring along organic wines. For those of you not familiar with Salt Spring, it is well known as a haven for artistic, holistic and organic back-to-nature folk. Upon our arrival and our learning that the evening's fare would all be vegan, we immediately began joking about how, despite Tyrant's carnivorous ways, his current island surroundings must be rubbing off on him. He countered that the theme had more to do with trying to come with something new after more than a decade of Dinner Club gatherings than it did with turning all granola on us.

In any event, it was going to be an interesting evening because none of us could remember ever having partaken in an entire menu plan based on vegan cuisine.

Tyrant started us off with vodka martinis made with Calvados, ginger beer and fresh pressed apple juice from our hosts' own trees. As we sipped away, an array of hors d'oeuvres were presented: sesame crusted tofu batons with dipping sauce, faux crab salad in cucumber cups and pesto seared king oyster mushroom medaillons on daikon rounds. it would seem that vegans have their ways of presenting food so that it reminds you of more familiar foods - like crab and scallops. Regardless, we were off to a tasty start.

1812.  NV Summerhill Pyramid Winery - Cipes Brut (Okanagan Valley VQA)

It only seemed fitting to bring along a bottle of Summerhill Cipes Brut. Not only is it consistently lauded as an excellent example of Okanagan bubbly, Summerhill is as dedicated to organic production as anyone in the Okanagan. Indeed, they've pioneered biodynamic practices where possible in their vineyards and they dedicate a healthy portion of their website to educating consumers on organic farming and wine.

Their website also has a "Note to Vegans" where they state, "although there is no third party verification for vegan wine, Summerhill uses no animal byproducts in its winemaking, and is therefore vegan friendly. We were once asked whether our Biodynamic practices are vegan friendly. Some biodynamic preparations are made by fermenting herbs in stag bladders and cow intestines. These animal parts are not in the wine or in any way touching the grapes. They are used as a medium to create beneficial soil bacteria that aid processes in the grapevine's immune system. We must leave it to each individual vegan to decide whether the biodynamic preparations are a deal breaker or not. Some animal byproducts commonly used in winemaking include fish bladders, gelatin, egg whites, milk and milk byproducts. Summerhill uses none of these ingredients in our wine."

It also didn't hurt that we were pairing the 2014 All Canadian Wine Championships "Sparkling Wine of the Year" with a roasted sweet potato soup (vegetable stock naturally) that had been thickened with puréed macadamia nuts.

1813.  2012 Domaine Fouassier - Les Romains (AOC Sancerre - France)

1814.  2013 TWR - Te Whare Ra Pinot Gris (Marlborough - New Zealand)

My favourite dish of the night was the miso-marinated, grilled Portobello carpaccio with lemon zest, pistachios and arugula in a lemon vinaigrette. It matched up nicely with our pair of whites - a Kiwi Pinot Gris that Tyrant had brought back from his trip as a treat for the Dinner Club and a Sancerre (which is always a treat in my book) that Lady Di had brought. I thought it was interesting that Tyrant brought the Kiwi wine but it was a Pinot Gris and not the variety more associated with New Zealand. The Sauv Blanc hailed from France.

This is the second vintage of Domaine Fouassier to be added to The List, but I've never heard of - let alone tried - TWR. Tyrant ran across them during his Kiwi tour and they are a boutique winery that specializes in organic, small batch wines. The current owners, Jason and Anna Flowerday, took over the vineyards ten years ago and they replanted one of their blocks with a Pinot Gris clone that they felt was suited to their terroir and passion for aromatics. Their site says that 2013 was a textbook summer in Marlborough and, in a little different take from most of the Pinot Gris we see from BC, 40% of the wine was aged and lees-stirred in old French oak to add to the "texture and complexity."

I think it's particularly telling that the owners' name is Flowerday and they are into organic and biodynamic farming. The biodynamic calendar is divided in four days: fruit, leaf, root and flower. Certain activities are planned to be in sync with phases of the lunar calendar to coincide with the most favourable times for sowing, planting, harvesting and even tasting. Flower days are noted for how wines are supposed to taste better on them (and fruit days) as opposed to root or leaf days.

When Tyrant announced the vegan theme for the evening, I checked my phone to see what day it was on the biodynamic calendar (yes, there's an app for that) and saw that it was a root day - not noted for being good days for tasting wine. I didn't know how root days boded for tasting vegan dishes but I hoped for the best.

One of Tyrant's neat little tricks was to serve a kiwi fruit sorbet in a hollowed out kiwi fruit "egg cup." I mean, there are palate cleansers and then are palate cleansers. Such a witty play on Tyrant's recent adventures down under.

1815.  2011 Carrick - Bannockburn Pinot Noir (Central Otago - New Zealand)

1816.  2010 Covert Farms MDC (Okanagan Valley VQA)

A bit of a break in the menu prompted another two bottles to be opened and this round saw a second treat of Tyrant's from New Zealand and a wine from another star in the Okanagan's organic movement - Covert Farms.

I've had a jones for Central Otago from the time I tried my first Pinot Noir that came from there - not that I get much of a chance to try them. Most of the premium Central Otago Pinots that make their way to the Vancouver market generally carry a premium price tag. A fact that often leaves me relying on the kindness of strangers (or friends such as Tyrant) to open a bottle.

I don't know if it was the whole "root day" thing but the Carrick didn't come across as nicely as I would have hoped for a Central Otago wine. It was shy on the bright fruit and weight that I associate with the region's top Pinots.

The MDC is a Cab Sauv dominant blend with Zinfandel and Syrah playing smaller roles in the mix and it certainly could have paired up with a big, old grilled steak. Ooops, wrong dinner.

1817.  2012 Emiliana - Novas Gran Reserva Garnacha Syrah (D.O. Valle del Cachapoal - Chile)

1818.  2012 Vistalba Corte C (Mendoza - Argentina)

The entrée was its own little tasting menu. Having their highly coveted, quadrant plates, the boys served up a foursome of dishes: Thai red curry soba noodles with shiitakes and scallions, coconut and panko crusted deep fried seitan nuggets with a charred corn and red onion salsa, tofu cubes stuffed with bulgur wheat and Asian vegetables and, lastly, fried lotus roots. I can't say that I've even heard of seitan before - a wheat gluten that is used as an alternative to soybean-based products. It is apparently a common ingredient found in restaurants catering to Buddhist patrons.

The pairing of the two South American wines with the largely Asian entrée may not have been a match in heaven but we were low on whites and we'd saved the bigger wines for the proteins. No one complained. In fact, the Vistalba might have been the favourite wine of the night. I know it was mine, but then, I'm a little biased since Boo and I visited Vistalba during our stay in Argentina - and it wasn't even us who brought that bottle. Jeaux and Matinder brought it (and the sister Tomero wine yet to come), but they apologized profusely as they'd only picked it up on the way to dinner and their choices were limited as their car had broken down and they couldn't make it to a larger wine shop. They had to settle for a little, local wine and beer store that didn't feature an organic section. They were advised that, while Vistalba wasn't labeled as organic, the winery did look to using sustainable growing practices.

Graciously, our hosts did not ask them to leave the table. Personally, when the wine tastes as good as the Vistalba did, I'm willing to put up with a bit of non-organic farming.  Corte C is a blend of Malbec (76%), Cab Sauv and Bonarda and it is actually Vistalba's entry level blend. I only wish that Cortes A and B were available in our market.

Emiliana is a stalwart entry in the provincial liquor board's selection of organic wines. I seem to recall their Novas brand as being the first organic wine to be aggressively marketed here - particularly since it was seen as a well-priced and consistently balanced wine.


Tyrant and Panda Guy topped off their feast with a vegan take on chocolate ganache pie. No cream or butter or was used in the recipe, rather it featured a ground hazelnut crust and a puréed mixed nut filling with organic cacao, medjool dates and agave nectar.

And, since there was chocolate, there was red wine.

1817.  2012 Tomero Cabernet Sauvignon (Mendoza - Argentina)

1818.  2011 Pangloss Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma County - California)

The last two wines saw another mix of old and new for me. Tomero is the sister (and entry level) label to Vistalba and, while I don't have a lot of their wines on hand, they are one of my faves for well-priced Argentine wines.

I'll readily admit that I don't know all that many Californian producers but I'm pretty sure that I've never run across Pangloss before. I see from their website that they are a small volume producer of a number of varietals and blends. The Cab Sauv saw one of their bigger case volumes but even it was limited to under 600 cases. I always appreciate it when I get to try a small volume production bottling like this.

The "unfortunate" part of trying these last two wines was that they were the last two wines - and I have to confess that I was drinking tonight's wines, not sipping, spitting and taking notes. I'd be laughed out of the Dinner Club if I tried that - and I started this gang. As such, I don't even recall if I favoured one of the wines over the other. Too bad because a Argentina vs. California tasting could be a decent evening all on its own.

So, vegan or not, I don't think anyone left hungry - and we all have a couple of vegan dishes that we could re-create if the need arose. Tyrant did say, however, that the vegan menu plan was a helluva lot of work and that he doesn't think he'd tackle it again. Indeed, he's already announcing that he figures their next Dinner Club theme will be a Brazilian meat buffet.

Either way - vegan or omnivore - I'm looking forward to it.

Keep Calm and Eat the Cookies


I'm not entirely sure how many years it takes for something to become a tradition but I'm darned sure that Jeaux and Matinder's annual Christmas Cookie Extravaganza has long passed into the "tradition" category. I can't remember how many years we've been kicking off the holiday season with shortbreads and gingerbread and squares and savouries but I do know that, thanks to Jeaux and Matinder, I've eaten enough calories over the years to keep an entire dieting industry in business.

The cookie fest is also a nice chance to catch up with some mutual friends that we might not bump into if not for the sweet smorgasbord - and, of course, an opportunity to add another couple bottles to The List.

1809.  2010 Daniel Lenko Chardonngay - Unoaked Chardonnay (VQA Niagra Peninsula - Ontario)

Mr. D was joining us tonight as he and Jeaux go all the way back to the 70's and high school on Vancouver Island. It was definitely a case of "small world" when we all found out that both of them had, independently, become great friends of mine. Mr. D popped by our place for a cocktail beforehand; so, I figured it only made sense to open the bottle of Chardonngay that D had given Boo back in the summer.

With the lively, rainbow label that the Daniel Lemko Chardonnay sported, we'd planned on opening it during this year's Pride weekend but the opportunity didn't arise. So, a holiday celebration is almost as good of an occasion. We don't see many Ontario wines out here in BC. Go figure. Same country but we're far more likely to run into a wine from half way around the world than we are to run into one from half way across the country.

As such, I didn't know anything about Daniel Lenko wines. Turns out that, while the winery was established in 1999, the Lenko family has been growing grapes for three generations. When Daniel Lenko's father planted some Chardonnay vines in the Niagra region, they were among the first Chardonnay vines planted in Canada. The vineyard's microclimate has allowed the vines to thrive and, according to the winery website, their vineyard is the "oldest Chardonnay planting" in the country.

I don't know what the connection between the winery and the gay community is but there's no mistaking who this wine is being marketed to. Not only does the label declare that the wine is "vinified in celebration of Canada's diverse Gay culture," but it also announces that $1 from every bottle sold will be donated to AIDS research. I may not think the wine was as fruity as the "gobs" of pineapple, lemon and peach promised on the label but i won't disagree with anything else about the wine.

1810.  2011 Lovico Suhindol Gamza (Bulgaria)

I knew even less about the second bottle that we opened. I grabbed it as it promised the addition of another grape to my Wine Century Club tally.

Once again, I had to rely on the winery website for some information on the wine and people behind it. Lovico Suhindol is apparently "the direct successor to the oldest vine-growing and winemaking cooperative on the Balkans, founded in 1909, ... and one of the leading driving forces of Bulgarian winemaking."

The winery notes that Gamza is an indigenous grape variety to the Suhindol region of Bulgaria; however, the origin of the grape isn't quite so hard and fast. Jancis Robinson's Wine Grapes bible actually lists the variety under Kadarka - the grape's name in Hungary where it has been a variety long used in the well known Bull's Blood blend - and the birth place of the grape is claimed by a number of regions in that part of the world. Hungarian plantings have declined in recent years, however, and the grape is far more commonly planted in Bulgaria now.

It's characterization as a lighter bodied red (and its name) made me think of Gamay but there's no other indication that the two grapes have any relationship whatsoever. Cookies and a plastic cup may have not been the best accompaniments for discovering a new grape variety but I figure I'd best grab the bull by the horn when the opportunity arises - particularly when I can celebrate #175 on my tally. The wine was definitely bigger than most Gamay's I've tried and there was a good bit of spice on the palate. Being from Bulgaria, you'd be right if you thought you'd be able to find this bottle in the bargain section of the wine shop. Red wine at $13 (or less when on sale) is a bit of rarity in our market.

1811.  2011 Edge Cabernet Sauvignon (North Coast - California)

Although it clocks in at closer to $30 a bottle, Edge Cab Sauv is one of the more popular - and well known - Napa Cabs in Vancouver. The folks behind Edge have always made it their goal to produce a "premium Cabernet Sauvignon without the premium price." The winery press kit lauds the wine as "the most reasonable Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon that one will find on the shelf which does not compromise on quality."

Personally, I don't drink enough California Cab to take an informed stance but I know a number of people who agree with those statements. I also know that the predominant Cab Sauv is fleshed out with 12% Merlot and 11% Syrah in this 2011 vintage and that, from my tastings over the years, it's a consistent drop of bold wine.

Perhaps a bit big for Christmas cookies, but there definitely comes a time when a guy has to give up on the cookies and just settle for the wine. Edge was up to the task and we bid our adieus once the bottle was done.

All in all, a pretty successful night of wine AND start to the holiday season.